Even on the journey to Vancouver I found that life was going to be very different and that I was starting up a long steep learning curve. Several times on the trip Sylvie had to firmly guide me the other way when I tried to enter a women’s washroom with her. I’d never been in a men’s washroom in my whole life and I didn’t find the experience at all pleasant. At other times little things would remind me that I was no longer the person I had been. My two hands would go up to the back of my head to fix my hair and there would be nothing there. Before I sat down I’d instinctively reach down to my hips in case I was wearing a skirt or dress. I used little hand gestures a lot when I talked, and other mannerisms were unconsciously those of a girl, not a boy. And boys weren’t supposed to cry.
When we had been a few days in Vancouver I went with Sylvie to buy clothes she would need; the Catholic high school she would attend had a strict uniform code, kilt and regulation white blouse for the girls. As Sylvie looked through clothes racks at other stuff — dresses, skirts, tops — I did the same and I noticed I was getting strange and semi-hostile looks from the clerk and women shoppers. It dawned on me that there was a strict double-standard here: a boy must not show any interest in girls’ clothes, yet, as we had seen in Saskatoon a few weeks earlier, girls could buy boys’ clothes without anyone paying much attention.
That was the beginning of a long, long time of confusion and misery. While on the outside I looked like any other boy of my age, on the inside I was still a girl. Starting a new school and making new friends is tough for any kid, but in my case I was adrift without any idea of how to adapt, and I didn’t want to adapt. I naturally wanted to be with the girls and while most of them were friendly, it was obvious they thought I was a bit weird in preferring to hang around with them. I got the message that no boy was going to be accepted into their close circles. The boys, of course, quickly caught on that there was something different about me and I became a victim of taunts — “sissy”, “fag” and “Joanie” were regulars — and quite a lot of bullying. I was an easy target: I had never been involved in fighting — not even when playing hockey — so I had no scrapping skills or inclinations, and I was small and slight for my age. I didn’t even try to fit in with the few boys who were kinder and more prepared to accept me. I just wasn’t interested in the rough-housing, pushing, shoving and play-punching that twelve-year-old boys revel in.
And because,for long as I could remember, I had been a girl, I desperately missed things that only a short while ago had been everyday small pleasures. I missed having nice colourful clothes — boy clothes were so unvaried and drab. I missed being able to change my look with a change of clothes. I missed girlie things – puff sleeves, frilly dresses, necklaces and bangles. I missed the feel of special girl clothes – soft, silky things, a skirt brushing against my bare legs, the exciting feeling of pulling on pantyhose on party occasions followed by the adventurous feeling of heels higher than my usual running shoes. I missed the adventures of putting on make-up. And oh how I missed my long shiny hair. I missed its fragrance, after I had washed it, when I would let it brush over my face. I missed its silky softness on my bare shoulders and back. I missed bringing it forward over my shoulders and playing with it, stroking it or running my fingers through it. And I missed pirouetting in front of the mirror with it swinging behind me. By age twelve you don’t remember very much of what happened before you were five. I had been a girl almost as long as I could remember and now, quite suddenly, all the femininity that had been a part of me was strictly forbidden.
The idea that a twelve-year old child cannot be clinically depressed is absolute nonsense. I was in fact grieving very deeply for the loss of my own persona. There are supposed to be three stages in reaction to the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, acceptance. Denial was a luxury not afforded to me. I would look in the mirror and there was no denying what I saw. Jon would stare back at me and I hated him. So I moved quickly to the next stage and it lasted a long time. I became angry, angry with the world, angry with myself, angry with Mom and Sylvie. Even angry with far-away Karen – I didn’t reply to several letters she sent, then when I did, I rudely told her that I wanted nothing more to do with her and that she shouldn’t write any more. So there were no more letters, which made me even angrier.
Mom and Sylvie were both resolute that there could be no turning back, and deep down inside I felt they were right, which of course only added to my feelings of hopelessness. But both of them were wonderful during that long time, when I tried their patience sorely, giving me all the love, affection and support that I would allow.
Life had to go on. I had rejected the idea of continuing in figure-skating, believing – probably correctly – that it would only lead to even more ridicule and cruelty at school. But I did continue piano and it was a great consolation to me. Mom bought us an upright soon after we moved into the Vancouver house and I would retreat to it and play and play. Music became an escape for me, with the side benefit that I became an increasingly accomplished pianist.
Hockey also helped in that terrible first year. Mom pushed me to join a league in which some of the boys in my Grade Eight class played. Reactions to the news that I would be playing were just what I had expected: “Oh, wow, I’m scared, Joanie’s going to crush me against boards” was typical. But attitudes changed once I got on the ice. I wasn’t into checking, but I could outskate them all and soon became one of the team’s top scorers. Grudging respect took over and the “Joanie” nickname began to be replaced by “Waynie” after a rookie who was wowing Edmonton Oiler fans with his skating and stick-handling.
It took well over two years before I came to accept that I was now Jon and had better just get on with being a boy. Not something I embraced with great enthusiasm – just pragmatic resignation. In high school, when the barriers between boys and girls came down, I was able to mix more with girls without it seeming too unusual. I never wanted to become a macho over-tetosteroned male and as my teenage years progressed this was something some girls found attractive. They would comment that I seemed to have a gentleness and empathy that other boys didn’t have. There had been taunts, particularly during the desperately unhappy Grade Eight and Grade Nine years, that “Joanie” was gay. This had made me ask myself if it might be true although I never felt any attraction to boys. But as my enjoyment of female company took on a new and different character, I was quite satisfied that it wasn’t the case.
By the end of Grade Ten I had learned to adapt reasonably well into the male world and I settled down as Jon, much to the relief of Mom and Sylvie. Although the anger was gone, I never lost the deep-seated regret that I hadn’t been able to remain Jean. That was a secret I kept to myself. The following eight years were fairly uneventful. I was a good student at high school, I continued with hockey, continued with piano and, on joining the school band, fell in love with the clarinet. I decided that music would be my career, and after high school was accepted into the music programme at UBC, eventually going on to graduate school.